June 24, 2017

Twelve Lessons About Social Media and Natural Disasters

One of Jeff Warner's many amazing photographs of Golden during the Indian Gulch Fire.

During the Indian Gulch Fire in Golden in 2011, Councilor Bill Fisher and I found that we were able to use our email lists, websites, and social media networks in ways that were pretty helpful to community members across Golden. After the fire, we put together a report describing what we had done, how well it worked, and the lessons we drew from the experience. In the months after the fire, we shared informal versions of the report with City Council, city staff, and the community, but Bill and I thought it would be worth sharing a slightly cleaner and slightly more polished version. It took a while, but we’ve got a slightly more formal version of the report we can share with anyone interested in learning from our experience.

Although the Indian Gulch Fire occurred a couple of years back, long and challenging fire seasons are probably here to stay (as Coloradans experienced yet again this summer), and the devastating floods of the past couple of weeks ago are a reminder that Colorado communities are susceptible to other crises, as well.

In reviewing and cleaning up the draft, we found that the observations and conclusions are still accurate and relevant. Because we had built strong email, web, and social media networks, because we weren’t part of the formal chain of command, and because we had earned trust and credibility from the community, we were able to fill a communication role that community members desperately wanted but which city and county officials couldn’t provide.

The short version of our lessons learned:

  1. Community members were hungry for information, and the official communication channels (while important) couldn’t move quickly enough to provide what the community wanted.
  2. Providing frequent updates, even if there wasn’t much new information to report, was extremely important to community members.
  3. Bill and I were effective in our ad-hoc communication/engagement/liaison role in part because we spent a lot of time on the ground talking with first responders, community members, and others.
  4. Doing a good job of gathering and sharing information was time-consuming.
  5. There can be some trade-offs between speed and accuracy, but local governments can’t rely exclusively on their traditional systems for aggregating and vetting information; people in the community are generating and sharing huge amounts of information and they aren’t waiting to see what the official channels are reporting.
  6. Because the emergency response was so strong – high quality teams that were well managed and coordinated – Bill and I didn’t have to expend any energy dealing with those types of operational issues. We were able to focus almost exclusively on communication and outreach with the community.
  7. Although community members collectively relied on a wide range of information sources, individuals tended to rely on only one or two. In other words, if we wanted to reach most community members, we had to rely on a range of communication tools.
  8. Facebook and Twitter were the most valuable tools for quick, frequent updates.
  9. Email newsletters played a central role as a less frequent but more thorough bedrock communication tool.
  10. Facebook and Twitter users can dramatically amplify the information they gather. If we provided frequent, high-quality information on these channels, that’s what spread quickly through these social networks. If we didn’t, then the quality of the information spreading through the networks was less reliable.
  11. It was important that we responded quickly to the questions and queries we received via email, our websites, and social media.
  12. Although it was unplanned, Bill and I were a good team for this role. We both had a lot of credibility in the community; by virtue of being on the city council and mayor, respectively, we were highly connected to the flow of information about the fire; we had both already built up strong email, web, and social media networks; and we were both highly sensitive to the risk of distributing inaccurate information. In addition, we had worked closely together for a long time, and trusted each other, so it was easy to share responsibilities throughout the entire crisis.

Feel free to download the full “Indian Gulch Fire – Lessons Learned” report if you’re interested. We welcome your thoughts on any of this, especially about where we go from here: how can the City of Golden (and other local governments around the country) – during natural disasters and perhaps at other times as well – be responsive to the growing use of social media and other internet-based tools for monitoring what’s happening in Golden and for engaging with the City and with each other as community challenges present themselves.

Jacob & Bill

P.S. Thanks to Golden photographer Jeff Warner for letting us use the photo.

The Blue Ribbon Panel on Golden’s Economic Future Presents its Final Report to Council

During last week’s study session, members of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Golden’s Economic Future presented their final report to City Council.

I think the most important conclusion from the panel’s report is also the starkest: the cost of doing everything that we in Golden have identified as our vision for the future far exceeds the revenue we are likely to have available to pay for it. The city will presumably continue to find new efficiencies, and I’m sure we’ll continue finding clever ways to do more with less, such as the public-private partnerships that produced the Golden Community Garden and the Bike Skills Park. But the gap between what we want and what it will cost to provide all of that is in the tens of millions of dollars; there is no way to avoid the uncomfortable fact that in the coming years we will either have to scale back our ambitions, increase our revenues, or a combination of both.

Council’s direction to the group (I was one of the 11 members) was very explicit: brainstorm a wide range of ideas for reducing expenses, increasing revenues, and otherwise closing the gap between the cost of the community’s vision and the resources available to implement it. We were directed not to evaluate or prioritize those ideas, but instead just focus on creating a diverse list of potential options. The ideas range from modest to extreme, and from simple to very politically charged. The panel was pretty diverse in terms of politics and perspective, and we had some vigorous discussions about the challenges facing the city and some of the ways we might tackle those challenges, but in the end we agreed to present Council with an expansive list of ideas.

It’s important to emphasize that the panel isn’t endorsing any of the ideas we presented. In fact, our individual reaction to each of the ideas varied widely, and in many instances people felt they couldn’t evaluate specific ideas, anyway, without a great deal more information and analysis. City Council asked us to come up with a wide-ranging list of brainstormed ideas; that we did.

On August 16, City Council is scheduled to formally accept the panel’s report. The next steps are up to City Council, but expect they’ll take some time to digest it and then figure out a good way to kick off a bigger community conversation about these issues. Learn more about the panel and download the final report of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Golden’s Economic Future.

What’s Happening in Golden

August 9, City Council Business Meeting and Study Session
City Hall at 7 p.m. The agenda includes appointment to the Golden Urban Renewal Authority, a resolution in support of funding measures for Jeffco schools, amendments to the Rooney Road Sports Complex and recycling center agreements with Jefferson County, a presentation to City Council by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Golden’s Economic Future, GURA’s quarterly report to City Council, and a discussion about the creation of a Downtown Development Task Force. City Council is meeting with Colorado School of Mines representatives for dinner before the official meeting starts. You can review the complete agenda, download the packet, and watch the live screencast, all on the city’s website.

August 10, Movies & Music in the Park
The next Movies & Music in the Park event features Dwight Mark at 7pm followed by The Muppet Movie at about 8:30. If the weather holds, you’ll find Movies & Music in the Park on 17, as well (with Tommy & the Tangerines and the movie Dolphin Tale).

August 11, Golden Farmer’s Market
The Farmer’s Market runs every Saturday from 8am – 1pm through October 6. If you haven’t been down yet this year, you’ll find it’s even bigger and better than last year.

August 18-19, Golden Fine Arts Festival
Golden’s premier art fest – the Golden Fine Arts Festival – runs all weekend long on 11th Street alongside the Clear Creek History Park.

August 23, City Council Business Meeting
City Hall at 7 p.m. You can review the agenda about a week before the meeting, and you can watch the live screencast, all on the city’s website.

August 25, USA Pro Cycling Challenge
Golden is hosting the start of Stage 6 of this year’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Just like last year, Golden is hosting a bunch of great events all weekend, including the “King of the Mountain” Lookout Mountain Hill Climb, the Taste of Golden block party, the movie Breaking Away at the Lions Park ballfields, and more.

August 28, Golden Cruise
The Golden Cruise is always the last Tuesday of the month, which means the next one is August 28. The action starts at Woody’s in downtown Golden at around 5:30pm with beer, free bike tune-ups, and plenty of frivolity. The Cruise starts at around 7pm.

September 1, Coffee With a Councilor
For folks living in the southern half of Golden, this is a chance to hear and ask questions of Councilor Saoirse Charis-Graves and other members of the City Council representing your part of town.

September 1, Golden Super Cruise
The Golden Super Cruise is cruising’ this summer, with official festivities running from 5-9pm. This is Golden’s car cruiser classic (not to be confused with the Golden Cruise, our bike cruiser event). There is one more Super Cruise evening scheduled for October 6.

September 7, First Friday Street Fair
Golden’s First Friday Street Fair continues in September. You’ll find inexpensive food, beer, music, kid-friendly entertainment, horse-drawn carriage rides, and more in historic downtown Golden from 5 – 10pm.

Two good websites for looking up other events in town are the city’s community calendar and Golden.com.

Radio Golden #10 – July 27, 2012: Jeffco school funding measures, Golden’s Blue Ribbon Committee, and more

The Radio Golden crew hit a nice milestone on Friday, recording our tenth Radio Golden podcast. We spent some time talking about the upcoming final report of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Golden’s Economic Future (currently scheduled for the August 9 City Council meeting). We also had a couple of terrific guests, Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman, to chat about the Jeffco Schools funding measures on the ballot this November. Both are members of the Jeffco School Board and have been active in Jeffco Schools for a long time.

You can listen to the episode on the Radio Golden website, download the mp3 from iTunes, or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (for free!).

Also, a special shout out to our two sponsors, Debbie Johnson & Brian Q. of Re-Assurance Real Estate and our newest sponsor Buglet Solar.

Let the Legal Wrangling Begin: the Beltway Lawsuit Gets Underway

The beltway lawsuits is off to a colorful start ...

The first of the proceedings in the lawsuit challenging the beltway proposal kicked off last week with a hearing on the lawsuit schedule. Scheduling conferences are usually dull affairs, but Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar made it interesting: he made a highly unusual (perhaps unprecedented) bid to address the court as part of the hearing. It was a pretty strange move, since VIPs (even if they are cabinet secretaries) don’t usually get special opportunities to weigh in during legal proceedings, in addition to drawing even more attention to the backroom politics that have characterized the beltway and Rocky Flats issues from the beginning. Secretary Salazar withdrew his request before the judge ruled on it.

Check out the Denver Post article (“Jefferson Parkway opponents decry Salazar’s attempt to weigh in on court case“) for more details.

Golden, Superior, and two conservation groups (Rocky Mountain Wild and WildEarth Guardians) filed the lawsuit earlier this year, challenging the federal government’s attempt to sell land that is now part of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge for use as a toll highway. We

In the meantime, Golden resumed its discussions with beltway proponents about a potential agreement to the dispute. As far as I know, the City Council’s position hasn’t changed appreciably since January: a willingness to consider an agreement that truly protects Golden from transportation projects that might occur outside our city limits. One thing that has changed: Colorado seems to be moving more definitively toward a transportation funding regime that relies heavily on toll lanes and toll highways across the state. Councilor Fisher provided some useful context in his newsletter last week:

While it is quiet on the PR and communications front, Council is actively engaged in working with and expanding the conversation on a Beltway. At the same time, the changing landscape of Colorado road funding means big, big changes in how CDOT and surrounding counties look at transportation. Specifically, I’m starting to sense that Coloradans are about to see a lot of new toll and “managed” lanes in the state over the next 10 years on major roads like C470, I-70, and possibly highway 93 in sections.

The basic math is this: Nobody appears interested in paying taxes, so if any roads are going to be built or maintained it’ll require tolling. Unfortunately, we’re getting what we as a society have asked for. More to the point, however, it means there are a LOT more interested players in seeing roads in and around Golden and the Metro area affected and connected. I partially see it as our role to understand how not to get run over by this massive shift in road policy here in Colorado and ensure we do get the mitigations and protections that keep Golden connected as a single, small and unique community with safe, slow roads, pollution reduction, and neighborhood strengthening.

I strongly encourage everyone to keep an ear to the ground as this challenge continues to be on our radar even when it may appear to go on the back burner. It affects all of us, and the more folks aware and involved, the better the outcome we can craft.

Jefferson County Education Funding on the November Ballot

The ballot in November will include a new education funding measure for Jefferson County schools, including a modest property tax increase and bonding. The estimates I’ve seen project an increase in property taxes of $1.23 per month per $100,000 of home market value.

In the face of the recession and the ongoing state budget disaster, Jeffco Schools have been really aggressive in cutting costs while trying to hold the line on the quality of the classroom education. But in doing so they’ve run through their reserves and I don’t think they have much else to cut without doing real long-term damage.

Jeffco Schools have also been more open than many school districts to experimenting with new approaches to teacher evaluation and compensation.

I’m pretty sure the school funding system is broken – schools rely largely on a state funding and property tax system that basically requires they go back to the voters on a regular basis for tax increases – and I’m hopeful that within a few years the state will tackle the larger dysfunction in the way we fund schools. In the meantime, though, Golden’s quality of life and property values, not to mention the prospects of our children, depend a lot on how strong our public schools are. I support this funding measure and hope the voters give Jeffco Schools a much-needed revenue stream.

You can get more info at the Citizens for Jeffco Schools website. Also, stayed tuned to Radio Golden; I’m guessing we’ll have a guest on this topic sometime before the elections.

And, by the way, huge congrats to Jeffco Schools for achieving the third best graduation rate in the country among the 50 largest school districts.

City Starts Tackling Clear Creek Challenges

Too much of a good thing isn’t always a good thing, and we seem to be experiencing some of this problem along the Clear Creek Corridor this summer. One concern is related to bad behavior by some of the folks who are spending time along the Creek: bad language, drinking alcohol (which is illegal along the creek), harassment, and other varieties of disorderliness. The solution seems pretty straightforward: crack down hard on people breaking the rules and otherwise making Clear Creek unpleasant for others. Staff and Council agree on this, and as a result we are seeing more aggressive enforcement by Golden Police Department, the mobile electronic sign on 10th warning about open containers and off-leash dogs, and the like.

The other issue is a bit more complicated. Aside from the bad behavior, a lot of people in Golden are frustrated with the sheer intensity of the use. It’s really, really crowded at times, and there’s a sense that a lot of the people spending time on the creek aren’t Golden residents. This gets at the heart of a question that’s been a major topic of discussion in the community for a long time:

Some see visitors from out of town as a huge success (indeed, the city’s “2-Hour Vacation” marketing campaign was designed to persuade people from the Denver Metro region to visit Golden). Others feel that Clear Creek and our other parks should serve Golden residents and no one else. Most Golden residents probably land somewhere in the middle, but it’s clear we don’t have anything amounting to a community consensus. The city manager walked through a range of strategies he’s planning or considering, and the Parks and Recreation Board will be taking public comment at their meeting tomorrow night (7 pm on Tuesday, July 17 at the Community Center) and making recommendations as well.

If the intensive use continues, City Council will have to tackle these much harder questions. Is the city going to focus on the problematic behaviors, or will they actively try dissuading non-residents from coming. If the latter, what happens when those strategies impact Golden residents, too?

Councilor Fisher already placed a marker on this issue at last week’s meeting, raising a flag about the “those people” tone that some of the discussion seemed to have.

For now, expect to see more Golden cops along Clear Creek, more areas roped off, and other city efforts to get a handle on the problem. And if you have any thoughts, shoot City Council an email (citycouncil@cityofgolden.net).

Finally, Mayor Sloan wrote a nice overview of the issue in her newsletter yesterday:

Visitors love our downtown, trails, biking opportunities, views, dinosaur footprint, parks, and events. And we usually love our visitors right back–they add life to our town and often spend money here, thus adding to business and city revenues. Recently, though, we’ve had an overflow of visitors on the Clear Creek Corridor–enjoying tubing while the weather is extremely hot and the water flow extremely low. Most are welcome — but not if they disregard our bans on alcoholic beverages, smoking, glass containers, littering, dogs off leash, excessive noise, and illegal parking. Also unwelcome are those who show disrespect of residents, children, police officers, and property; those who stake out a territory and squat there all day; and those who block the pathways and erode the creek banks. The City is taking measures to ensure that these disagreeable folks go elsewhere. Police are strictly enforcing our ordinances. Banks that need restoration have been fenced off and parking will be reduced. The corridor is treasured by all Golden residents and we have been proud to share it with the considerate majority of visitors.  We’ll work through the current situation together — and in the meantime I would like to give a shout out to the local residents who have had their neighborhood disrupted and the police who are working hard under difficult circumstances. The Parks and Recreation Board has put this item on the agenda of their Tuesday, July 17 meeting at 7:00 p.m. at the community center. If you have additional ideas on the subject, the members of the board are interested in hearing them. They will then make recommendations to council.

(City of Golden photo).

Radio Golden Episode #9: Status of Golden’s Sustainability Initiative, Chaos on Clear Creek, and More

One of the Radio Golden studios, this one in South Golden.

The ninth episode of the Radio Golden podcast is ready for the listening. You can listen to it on the Radio Golden website or grab it (for free!) from iTunes. If you like the convenience of new episodes automatically downloading (which I love), you can even subscribe to Radio Golden on iTunes.

We had a great time on this show, recording outside with a great view of South Table Mountain and enjoying an energetic conversation about the challenges along the Clear Creek Corridor this summer and a great chat with two members of Golden’s Sustainability Advisory Board.

And thanks to Debbie Johnson & Brian Q. of Re-Assurance Real Estate for becoming Radio Golden’s very first sponsor!

Radio Golden #8 – June 22, 2012: air quality in Golden, the Jeffco schools bond & mill, and more

Special guests Jeremy Nichols (on air quality) and Obsidian (on great things for kids to do in Golden during the summer).

Curious about Golden’s air quality? Ever wonder about ozone pollution, or the impacts to Golden of Coors’ coal-fired power plant? Did you know that Coors does, in fact, have a coal-fired power plant? It’s all in Radio Golden episode #8. Check it out …

Radio Golden #7: Councilor Bill Fisher, Keller property development, East Downtown plan, and more

Listen to (or download) Radio Golden Episode #7.
Curious about how City Council is doing so far this year? Want to know how City Council and staff are getting along? Been wondering about renewable energy, creating jobs in Golden, GURA, or downtown development? Council Fisher covered all of this ground and more today on Radio Golden. We also spent some time exploring the implications of the proposed Keller property development and the status of the East Downtown plan.